The River’s Song

22600432._UY200_ When I was a young reader and first beginning to dream of growing up to be a published writer, I checked a book out of our local library titled The Blue Cat of Castle Town and promptly fell in love. It’s a children’s novel and Newberry Honor Book by Catherine Cate Coblentz set in the 1800’s.  Its protagonist is an adventurous blue kitten born in a Vermont meadow near a river. Despite his mother’s warning not to pay attention to the river’s song, the kitten listens carefully. The river tells the kitten: “Sing your own song. Sing well.”

That’s some of the best writing advice I’ve ever read. It captures the two most important writing principles, and presents them in the right order.

We live in an era when consumer-thinking dominates nearly all aspects of our lives. It goes way beyond choosing what products to buy and infiltrates our decisions about education, leisure time, and even religion. We tend to experience life through attention to what we can get out of it, rather than considering what we can contribute. This impacts writers, too, especially when we focus on what will sell or earn us literary awards, rather than doing the hard work of discovering our “own song.”

Singing your own song means concentrating on your own truth. It means digging deep and becoming intimate with your own passions and fears. It means thinking of readers not as consumers but as collaborators in the process of bringing a story to life.

Singing well is just as important. According to the river, “All that is worth doing, do well. . . Every line be graceful and true. . .”  This requires patience and concentration and enormous effort. It means holding yourself to high standards and not being satisfied with your own mediocrity. It means rejecting the temptation to take shortcuts to writing success.

Singing your own song and singing well will not guarantee that your book will become a New York Times Bestseller or do well in the amazon rankings. But it will guarantee the assurance that you’ve written your own truth and done it as well as you possibly could.  And in my view, there’s no greater satisfaction.

The River’s Song

“Sing your own song, said the river,
Sing your own song.

“Out of yesterday song comes.
It goes into tomorrow,
Sing your own song.

“With your life fashion beauty,
This too is the song.
Riches will pass and power. Beauty remains.
Sing your own song.

All that is worth doing, do well, said the river.
“Sing your own song.
Certain and round be the measure,
Every line be graceful and true.
Time is the mold, time the weaver, the carver,
Time and the workman together,
Sing your own song.
“Sing well, said the river. Sing well.”

Note: The Blue Cat of Castletown is in the public domain and available at the following site:
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/coblentz/cat/cat.html

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